27th Sunday 2013 Respect Life Sunday
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to the Lord. (2 Timothy 1:7-8)
For many years now this first Sunday of October has been designated by the United States Bishops as Respect Life Sunday. This is the 40th year that this first Sunday in October has been dedicated to prayer and education for the renewal of respect for all human life from conception to natural death. It began shortly after the Supreme Court decision in 1973 which opened the door to abortion on demand in this country. The Catholic Bishops saw this dreadful decision as a watershed moment in the history of our country because the denial of the right to life for the unborn child was the opening of the door to a loss of respect for all human life.
Unfortunately, one of our very powerful bishops in those early days effectively undercut Catholic action against this attack on innocent life by promoting what he referred to as a “seamless garment” approach to the life issues, which was taken by most media propagandists, including not a few Catholic publications, to mean that the attack on innocent life in the womb should be understood as only one among many life issues such as unemployment, poverty, discrimination, etc. In effect, this bishop and his cohorts had handed the pro-abortion politicians, who labeled themselves as “Catholics,” just what they were looking for to justify their voting with their party leaders for pro-abortion legislation while “balancing” those horrific votes with votes that showed concern for other life issues like those mentioned above. Thus one could claim to be pro-life by voting to extend unemployment payments even while voting to support the right to kill millions of unborn children.
Even today, Catholics who see the deaths of millions of unborn children as the greatest and most important moral issue of our time are labeled as fanatics and small minded, single issue voters and activists. Already in the seventies, many people in this country, again including all too many Catholics, thought that even this day of prayer was an overreaction on the part of the bishops and the Catholic Church, focusing too much on one divisive issue regarding life when there were so many life issues we could agree on as Americans.
But time has proven the non-seamless-garment, pro-life advocates all too correct in their reading of the direct consequences and the long term implications of this one landmark ruling, on one great moral issue, for the moral compass of our country and its citizens. There were those in 1973 who thought that abortion would only provide a very limited recourse for people in desperate situations. They were wrong. Over 50 million unborn children have paid with their lives on account of that legal travesty called Roe V. Wade. And today, only 40 years after that abortion decision, it is a fact that an unborn child with any handicap has little chance of being born into our world. For instance, 90% of Downs Syndrome children are being aborted today in this country. Some unborn children are even being aborted because they are not the desired gender – they are mostly little girls who suffer this fate. It’s a truism that abortion is not the only life issue, but its acceptance has definitely undercut respect for human life as no other issue.
But the loss of respect for life goes beyond the unborn. Crimes like rape are on the increase, and that is a sign of the times that indicates a decreasing respect for life. Look at the news and see how many people are being murdered in our country, almost without the least remorse. Youths in many of our cities are being mowed down in gang wars and mindless acts of violence. And the next in line are the aged. As our Medicare expenses explode with the retirement of tens of millions of baby boomers over the next decade, the problems in funding social security and medical care will have to be solved by a culture that is no longer respectful of the right to life for anyone who burdens others. Given the decline in the number of children being born today and the increase of retirees going on to Medicare, the Congressional Budget Office asserts that by 2030 there will be only 2.2 tax payers for every 1 enrollee in Medicare. How will they pay for the care of the elderly? Death seems the logical decision in such a society as ours.
Indeed, today Catholic leaders, both clerical and lay, are extremely concerned that the present health care act passed by the most pro-abortion President and Congress in history, will quickly begin to ration health care to the aged and those who have poor health in general. With the growing costs of health care and a deep seated loss of respect for human life today, there are already solutions [final?] being proposed to deny expensive health care to the chronically ill and the aged. These proposals are being resisted today, but they are likely to meet less resistance as time goes on, and what is still unthinkable today for many may be quite thinkable down the line, and not all that far down the line.
Reform of the health care system may be a necessary and good thing in itself, but in an age where the moral compass of many of our politicians and many citizens has been distorted by 40 years of abortion on demand, we need to be very careful indeed about what is being proposed as a solution to our heath care problems.
As Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa constantly reminded us, respect for life is ultimately measured by our respect for the most defenseless persons, for the unborn, for handicapped children, for chronically ill persons and for the aged. Jesus did not heal every sick person he met, but can you possibly imagine him ever considering another human being as not worthy of life, not worthy of health care? Mother Teresa used to go about the streets of Calcutta and pick up the maimed and sick who were tossed into the street like garbage; and then she would take them to her convent and wash them and make them feel like valued human beings, perhaps for the last time as many would die in her arms. But they knew they were of great value, worth loving, because she and her sisters loved them. The saints have always understood that the poor and the defenseless are God’s treasures and are given to us so we can love them, to serve God in them and thus mount our way to heaven. Men and women without faith do not see the poor or the defenseless in this way, and their solutions to the problems of poverty and sickness and weakness is often is simply to get rid of the poor and the helpless. That is what happened in Germany under the Nazis – it was not just the Jews and Christian leaders who were murdered, but their final solution to the problems of mental defectives and those with terrible physical diseases was simply to kill the innocent. They may have thought themselves to be a highly civilized people, but having lost their faith and respect for life, in the end many Germans became mass murderers.
How many innocents, the young, the aged and the sick, must lose their lives in the countries of the victors in World War II, before we recognize that our own civilization is now in decay precisely because it has loss the respect for life due to all human beings? Christians promoting respect for all human life, but especially for the most defenseless among us, are the true rescuers of civilization, the only hope left that we will not sink into the barbarity of our old enemies. Early Christians were considered to be the enemies of the Roman civilization because they would not accept and imitate its moral degeneracy. They were in fact the best Roman citizens because they had families when the Romans were having fewer and fewer children; they had stable marriages and homes when the Roman household was collapsing. They would not kill their children nor murder the innocent. They were the best citizens Rome had ever had, and yet they were hated nonetheless. It’s the same today.
And how did these hated Christians respond then, with hatred, with contempt, by withdrawing from society? No, with love, with truth, with military service, with help when their pagan neighbors were sick, with a deep respect for the value of their lives, even if they did not return that respect. They eventually converted an empire and kept it alive much longer that could have been predicted.
That has to be our response to our society which is in such great danger. We must respect the truth and speak it without fear. We must love all our neighbors as God does, help them when in need and teach them the value of their own life in God’s eyes and in ours. But above all we must help the defenseless by doing what we can to help them survive in a world that judges their lives are not worth living. We must be Apostles of life and messengers of God’s love – that is our task today, and one day God, and perhaps our society even, will bless us for that witness to the value of all life. That is our testimony to our Lord in a culture of death.